Liver disease can have different causes. Some types of Liver disease like hepatitis can be caused by contaminated food or water or, more commonly, from coming in contact with another infected person’s blood or bodily fluids. Other types of liver disease and damage can be caused by cancer or some systemic illnesses, or from long-term use of alcohol or certain medications, including some common over-the-counter medications. Even an excess of some vitamin supplements can cause the liver to become damaged or diseases. The liver performs an essential role in digestion, and it also helps filter toxins out of the bloodstream. Many medications are processed in the liver, and patients who take certain medications will need to have regular liver function testing performed to ensure their medication is not causing damage. Obesity also can increase the risk of developing some types of liver disease.
In its early stages, liver disease may cause few or no symptoms until some degree of liver damage and dysfunction occurs. Symptoms can include:
tenderness or swelling in the abdomen
yellow tint to the skin and eyes (jaundice)
changes in the appearance of the stool, including stools that look very dark or very pale
nausea and vomiting
tendency to bruise easily
swelling in the feet and ankles
loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss
Liver disease diagnosis begins with a physical exam and a review of the patient’s symptoms and medical history, followed by a blood test to look for markers associated with liver damage or dysfunction. If damage is suspected, diagnostic imaging using ultrasound, CT scan or MRI may be ordered a biopsy procedure may be performed using a hollow needle to extract a small sample of liver tissue for evaluation under a microscope.
Liver disease treatment depends on the underlying cause of disease and the extent of damage to the liver. Many types of liver disease can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes, like avoiding alcohol consumption or certain medications. When damage is more extensive, surgery or a liver transplant may be necessary.
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